Which Live Pollution Map is Better For You? Vivergy’s Share My Air vs. World Air Quality Index

A couple weeks back, we launched the Share My Air tool to make air pollution understandable in every community across the United States. Of course, we must recognize the authority in live air pollution mapping – the World Air Quality Index. So which is better for your purposes?

Map of air pollution in Northern U.S.

Share My Air tool

The Basics: Share My Air is a live map of air pollution monitors in the United States and some of Canada. It takes PM2.5 readings updated every hour, and converts them to an equivalent amount of secondhand smoke exposure.

Main Features: Clickable map of every official PM2.5 monitor in US and some of Canada, graphs of exposure in every area for last 24 hours, 1 month and 6 months. Can share any particular monitor instantly on Twitter/Facebook.

The Goal: Help people understand air pollution in their community, make it clear that it is in their best interest to take action.

Audience: US and Canadian citizens casually interested in air pollution and knowledgeable of the dangers of secondhand smoke

Potential Applications: Explaining the dangers of air pollution in every community, making air pollution more emotional for everybody, from normal citizens to scientists

worldairqualitymap

World Air Quality Index

The Basics: World Air Quality Index includes over 8000 live-streaming monitors from around the world. It includes air quality measurements in particulate matter 2.5, particulate matter 10, ozone and nitrogen dioxide as well as weather metrics such as temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and wind direction.

Main Features: Clickable map of every live-streaming air quality monitor across the world, graphs of exposure for each pollutant measured by that particular monitor for past 48 hours. Can share via many social networks, and read up on the meaning of different AQI values easily.

The Goal: Put air pollution in communities across the world on one comparative measure (EPA’s AQI). Give a full explanation of what AQI means, and what negative health consequences can result from a poor AQI.

Audience: Anyone with an internet connection that would like to compare air pollution around them to air pollution in any community across the world.

Potential Applications: Helping individuals understand if their air pollution is better or worse than similar cities. Comparing air pollution regulations across different countries.

Conclusion

World Air Quality Index and Share My Air work well for different audiences. World Air Quality Index, with its comprehensive monitoring network and multiple pollutant measurements, satisfies those who have above average knowledge of atmospheric science and air pollution formation. Share My Air’s focus on one pollutant, a universally understandable metric and limited range means that it would work best for American and Canadian users who are casually interested in air pollution (or, perhaps that interest might increase after seeing the map!).

–The Vivergy Team

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Vivergy Pollution Stats Update: Suspending the PM2.5 to Cigarettes Smoked Calculation

Three weeks ago, we covered the difficulty of comparing air pollution exposure to cigarette smoking, mainly due to challenges associated with doing a controlled study and a non-linear dose response curve. You can also read up on our original documentation on this conversion based on the work of Arden Pope at Brigham Young University.

After further conversation with Dr. Pope himself, we have decided to suspend the air pollution to cigarettes smoked calculation this week due to the challenges of doing this calculation in a fair way. Since the current literature shows a large gap between raw exposure and health impacts, we decided it was not fair to put a hard number on this for the moment. Having said that,  Dr. Pope bolstered our confidence in the secondhand smoke-oriented conversions (pollution to time in a car with a smoker and pollution to months living with a smoker) so we will be focusing on those for the time being. Secondhand smoke is much easier to compare to air pollution since children are exposed to both, allowing for a controlled study. The literature shows very similar longitudinal health impacts of exposure to secondhand smoke versus air pollution on a per unit basis.

Bottom Line: Until new evidence comes out that fairly compares air pollution to smoking cigarettes in a longitudinal way, we are going to stick to the secondhand smoke oriented conversions.

–The Vivergy Team

Latest Evidence From Lead Air Pollution Researcher Shows That Vivergy Air Pollution to Cigarettes Conversion Is An Underestimate

A new review by C. Arden Pope of Brigham Young University, the leading voice on the health impacts of air pollution, calls into question the relevance of his previous work of converting air pollution exposure to cigarette inhalation based on raw exposure statistics.

In one of our previous blogs, we walked through the method we use to convert air pollution exposure to an equivalent number of cigarettes inhaled. This was based on published work of Dr. C. Arden Pope of BYU. But this week, on the MyHealth Beijing blog, Dr. Pope pointed out that under further review, this exposure-based calculation is insufficient for describing the incrementally larger health problems that people who inhale air pollution experience compared to health issues that they would expect to experience when inhaling an equivalent amount of fine particulates from cigarettes.

This all started a few weeks ago when Dr. Richard Muller at the University of California, Berkeley published a study that showed an estimated 4000 Chinese die per day due to outdoor air pollution. Dr. Muller observed that the deaths measured in his study went far beyond the expected number of deaths that these Chinese citizens would experience if they inhaled an equivalent amount of cigarette smoke. In fact, his study showed that based strictly on the health impacts, a Beijing resident inhaled about 40 cigarettes of air pollution every day. This stands in stark contrast to Pope’s estimate, which was around 1/6 of a cigarette a day. A difference by a factor of over 200!

After a discussion, Pope wrote the response posted on MyHealth Beijing which points out the challenges of the strictly exposure-based model versus calculating the exposure based on the resulting health impacts (a chicken or the egg problem). One thing is certain: Pope’s original cigarette calculation is not accurate based on the actual health issues that people experience from outdoor air pollution. The original calculation is an underestimate of the number of cigarettes, but by how much is unclear. Which means the Vivergy air pollution to cigarettes conversion is too low!

A few factors make this calculation complex. First of all, children inhale air pollution 24 hours a day, 365 days a year while their lungs and heart are still developing and have weakened defenses. But you are not going to find any children that smoke cigarettes, so it is challenging to design a controlled experiment since air pollution has a head start by getting into children’s lungs at a more vulnerable point. Also, making the assumption that every unit of air pollution or cigarettes inhaled leads to a directly related increase risk for death may be unfair. It may be more of a logarithmic relationship, where air pollution or cigarettes inhaled at lower levels leads to exponential increases in risk, but as you inhale more of each, the health risks become less per unit of pollution inhaled since your body is already overwhelmed by the pollutants entering the heart and lungs.

That being said, there is one way that we may be able to draw similarities between the two: second-hand smoke. Since there are plenty of children who have inhaled second-hand smoke, scientists can easily study the health effects compared to outdoor air pollution. Pope notes, “In fact, the elevated fine PM [particulate matter] exposures and excess mortality risks for SHS [second-hand smoke] and air pollution are remarkably similar”. Secondhand smoke may be a much more accurate tool for comparison than cigarette smoking itself.

Be on the lookout for an announcement in the coming weeks when we decide how to fairly update our air pollution to cigarettes calculation to reflect this new knowledge. We are very glad to see that an unprecedented level of research is going into this field, and we are happy to be transparent as we try to stay up to date with the latest science.

–The Vivergy Team

What Is Causing Air Pollution Levels To Go Through The Roof in the Northern U.S.?

Map of air pollution in Northern U.S.

After the release of the Share My Air live pollution map last week, processing air quality data instantly and “seeing” trends has become far easier for those of us who don’t know how to query an air pollution database! As we checked out the live map over the past two days, we noticed a distinct trend. Monitors across the Midwest and Northeast were getting more red in a hurry, meaning their pollution levels were spiking. This was not just a few monitors, it seemed to be every monitor. We looked for an explanation in national or local news, but we could not find any reports on the phenomenon. Are we crazy?

To test whether this is an actual pollution wave hitting many states across the northern U.S., we decided to do a little investigation. We took a random sample of 50 monitors across 10 states (5 per state). States sampled include: MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH, PA, NY, NJ, and KY. We looked at daily averages for the past two days (Aug 30, 2015 and Aug 31, 2015) and compared them to daily averages for every other day of the month. What we found was startling, to say the least.

Out of 50 monitors sampled, 40 (80%) experienced their highest daily pollution value for the month over the past 2 days. Considering that this study sampled 10 states, this a quite a land area for pollution to spike simultaneously. This is not a local pollution event in any one place – it is a blanket of pollution covering many communities within these 10 states.

Two questions followed: is anybody reporting on this across the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic? We could not find any definitive articles. Also, where is the pollution coming from?

Here is our theory: the wildfires in the Northwest and California release tons of fine particulates into the air. The West experienced their air pollution event last week, but these tiny particulates can stay in the air for weeks. They likely entered the jetstream and began a journey across the rest of the U.S., getting deposited into communities along the way.

What do you think? Is this caused by the wildfires, or something else? Is anybody experiencing the effects of this pollution right now? Has anybody else done a report on this? Let us know! Shoot an email to info@joinvivergy.com, tweet @vivergy and talk to us on Facebook at facebook.com/vivergy. Would love to hear your thoughts!

-The Vivergy Team